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WA to CA

State to State
From Washington to California

Words & Photos: Molly Steele

Good omens on a road trip include: a herd of cows blocking the road, losing reception hours before you’ve even gotten to where you’re going, too many wildflowers to count, and finding a campsite at the dead end of a dirt road at the edge of a river just in time to drink a beer from your bra at golden hour. I know it’s a mouthful, but it’s just the beginning.


Two girls, two weeks, and a ’78 Mercedes 250 in cayenne. The idea was to meet in Seattle to pick up the Merc, later dubbed the Loquat, and drive it down to Los Angeles. Our route, if you can even call it that, was an ambitious semicircle like that of a moon in the first quarter of its cycle: Washington > Oregon > Idaho > Utah > Arizona > Utah again > California. Sorry Nevada.

Olivia, my partner on the trip, is a Kiwi now living in New York. An experienced traveler with a sunshiney attitude, she was the ideal companion for two weeks in the car and a tent. I’ve spent the better part of the last three years traveling, but it’s taken me a long time to understand the value of an open schedule and the right company.

Our route was loosely mapped out to ensure that we were both experiencing it all for the first time. After a few days’ delay in Portland for some tuneups on the Loquat, we spent our first day on the road driving through Eastern Oregon, a place in stark topographical contrast to the lushness of the Pacific Northwest. We seemed to spend forever in Oregon, getting to know the environment, the locals, and the history. I didn’t anticipate finding love in Joseph, Oregon, but it’s a place I could confidently call home one day. Our new friend Greg, owner of the Jennings Hotel, hosted us for several days, shuttling us from one place to the next. We went fly fishing with a fifth generation resident and ranchman, hiked to the top of the Zumwalt Prairie at sunset, got snowed on exploring an abandoned Boy Scout camp of A-frame cabins nestled against a glacier, and laid on a dock in the great Lake Imnaha at night.


After leaving Oregon, we made our way to Utah for warm weather, red canyons, green rivers, and the spirit of Edward Abbey. Once you pass by the families with lodging reservations and bike racks you get into backcountry Native Americans inhabited long before the roads were paved and signs raised. Because we opted out of planning ahead, our campsites each night were a direct result of our daytime venturing and intuitive wanderlust. On the outskirts of Canyonlands, we found ourselves riding 4-wheelers over the terrain with brothers we had only jmet a moment before. A few Coors Lights, the rush of the wind, the setting of the sun over the rocks and red dunes, the feeling of freedom that we’re all after.


Ten days later we were driving through the Mojave during a rainstorm, speakers blasting Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (If You Like Piña Coladas),” when I realized how flawless the trip had been. I thought about the importance of being sensitive to the needs of those around you, of being open-minded and easygoing, about sleeping outside, about being frugal, about making sure to learn about the culture and ecology of the places you’re passing through. I thought about the time we were served beers while grocery shopping at M Crow in Lostine, Oregon, about hot berry jam on the river at sunrise, about the light shining through Hell’s Canyon and the dusty old Loquat speeding through the desert.